What Can Individuals Do to Respond to Climate Change?

Whether purchasing a new vehicle or light bulb, deciding where to shop or bank, or making decisions at work, individuals nowadays have many options to reduce their carbon footprint. Good information is hard to find, though, and many of us do not know where to turn, whether our goal is to save money or reduce carbon emissions. If we include home electricity use, personal transportation, and other activities in the home, households account for roughly a third of all emissions in the US and a similar share in other countries.

Our research suggests that initiatives directed at household actions can achieve a “behavioral wedge” – a 20% reduction in US household carbon emissions – in the next decade. Is this a meaningful amount? It is roughly equal to all of the emissions of France and larger than the total emissions of more than 150 countries. Making more sustainable decisions and changing some simple daily habits thus can make an important difference. Although there is no substitute for large-scale actions by governments, companies, religious organizations, colleges and universities, and other large organizations, a surprising number of actions within the direct control of individuals can play a key role. If you want to know more about the importance of individuals and households in the fight against climate change, these papers and the sources they cite are a good starting point: